Michael Sommers in A Hole.
Photo by Jaime Carrera
Michael Sommers isn't one for doing things the easy way, as his sort-of adaptation of Alice in Wonderland proves. Taking cues from Lewis Carroll's famous tale, Sommers twists and turns the piece as a way to explore issues of life, death, and forgiveness -- ideas that turn up again and again in his work.
That means the experience of A Hole at Open Eye Figure Theatre is a singular one. A diffuse set of scenes play out throughout the space, even starting before the "curtain," as guests are invited to have a little drink (absinthe or cider) before the festivities begin.
For his tale, Sommers lays out a different look at Alice and the rabbit. Here it is her pet, and it is savaged and killed by her grandfather's dog. Grandfather shoots the dog so it can go to the other side and apologize. Along the way, there are moments that draw inspiration from Carroll's piece -- a bit of dialogue here, a stray reference there -- but it is Sommers's tale that carries the day.
There's not a lot of narrative forward momentum through A Hole, but that is certainly by design. Sommers keeps the puppetry at a minimum, sometimes playing out simple gestures in moments that almost come across as tableaus.
And while the tone is pretty serious, as a rabbit gets mauled in the opening minutes, there is a playful side to this as well. The Alice influences come through in some of the imagery and during an interlude outside. There, the 30 or so patrons are jammed around a table and fed a little meal (a turnip-based soup, a flaky pastry stuffed with mushrooms, and, naturally, a carrot) while Sommers does his best to channel the Mad Hatter (something that may not actually be too far from the surface) and a small choir sings off-kilter, Alice-inspired songs by Gyorgy Legeti.
It all comes together in the final scene, as the spirit of the dog arrives at the grave of the rabbit and makes amends. It's a moment tinged with sorrow and regret over opportunities lost, and nicely echoes the spirit -- if not the actual text -- of the end of Alice in Wonderland. That's followed by "White Rabbit" and then dessert -- because, why not, and it's a particurarly tasty apple crisp and ice cream combo. And like Alice, we need to get back to the surface after our adventures down the rabbit hole.
So, as longtime patrons would expect, A Hole isn't a regular theatrical journey. It is, however, something particularly singular. And, like Alice's dream, something fleeting, as it only plays through this week.
IF YOU GO:
Open Eye Figure Theatre
506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis.
Through September 30 (no late seating).
For information, call 612.874.6338 or visit online.